With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

Morocco believes its fifth bid for the World Cup is 'a candidacy for the whole continent'. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

CASABLANCA: Morocco is “fully mobilized” for its long-shot bid to host the 2026 World Cup, hoping to be a candidate “for the whole of Africa,” top sports officials said Tuesday.
The kingdom “is not a non-starter — it’s a real candidate,” Moulay Hafid Elalamy said in his first public appearance as chairman of the country’s 2026 bid committee.
“We are going to put in all our energy,” he told a news conference in Casablanca, brushing off criticisms that the campaign had been delayed.
“Our record is and will be irreproachable.”
Morocco’s fifth bid, announced in August, faces fierce competition from a three-nation ticket of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Fouzi Lekjaa, head of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), said he hoped the North African country’s bid would be “a candidacy for the whole continent.”
“Between 1930 to 2030 — 100 years — the African continent has only organized the World Cup once,” Lekjaa said, referring to the 2010 tournament in South Africa, which beat a previous bid by Morocco.
“It should not remain on the margin.”
The committee has enlisted Ivory Coast legend and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba along with Cameroon international striker Samuel Eto’o to promote its bid.

The host will be chosen on Jun. 13, but the way the choice is made marks a change by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body.
The decision used to be made by FIFA’s executive committee, but after suspicions over its selection of Russia and Qatar in December 2010, sparking a scandal that dethroned president Sepp Blatter, the committee was stripped of some powers and renamed the FIFA Council.
The new-look council must rubber-stamp the bids, but the final decision will be taken in a vote of the 211 national federations at a congress in Moscow.
Morocco’s bid committee hope to win support from the 53 members of the Confederation of African Football.
CAF president Ahmad Ahmad has urged the sport’s bodies across the continent to offer “free and massive support” to the kingdom.
The bid committee on Tuesday’s unveiled their leadership team, social media channels and logo: Red leaves on a black and white football surrounding a star that symbolizes “unity and brilliance.”
Responding to a question on human rights, newly added to FIFA’s selection criteria, Elalamy said Morocco had made progress on women’s and family rights.
The kingdom was “one of the safest countries in the world,” he added.
The committee also played up Morocco’s infrastructure, including a high-speed railway, ports, stadiums and hotel capacity.
They did not reveal how much was to be spent on the bid, but said each of the last two bids had cost around $15 million.


Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

Updated 20 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

  • Squad of 28 to be based in Zurich
  • Friendlies on the horizon against Italy and Peru

Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken a 28-man squad to Zurich for the final stage of the Green Falcons’ World Cup preparations.
The party flew out of Jeddah late last night and landed in Switzerland early this morning. There they will be joined by Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari who will fly in from Spain after playing for Levante and Villarreal on Saturday night.
The three-week training camp in the Swiss resort town of Bad Ragaz gives Pizzi the chance to get stuck into some intense tactical and physical work with his players and decide which five players to leave out of his squad. He must whittle down his list down to 23 by June 4, which gives the players get two final chances to stake their claim for a seat on the plane in friendlies against Italy on May 28 and Peru on June 3. By the time they play Germany in Leverkusen on June 8, Pizzi will have named his party for the assignment in Russia.
Pizzi is clearly much nearer knowing who he will take as he has only made minor changes to the squad he named for the recent wins against Greece and Algeria.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Assaf Al-Qarni replaces his club teammate Fawaz Al-Qarni as the fourth stopper in the squad, as Pizzi looks settled on retaining Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais in addition to Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. One of those four will fail to make the cut as no team takes four goalkeepers to the World Cup.
There were no changes in the backline where the former Chile boss is opting for harmony. Eight of the nine defenders called up ply their trade at Al-Hilal or Al-Ahli, while Al-Nassr’s Omar Hawsawi rounds off the selection. One defender might have to make way and Al-Hilal teammates Mohammad Jahfali and Ali Al-Bulayhi could well find themselves vying for one spot on the plane to Moscow.
Abdullah Otayf and Taisir Al-Jassim look to be firm favorites to make the starting XI in the base of midfield, while the third central spot is up for grabs. Hussein Al-Moqahwi has regularly featured in that position, but Salman Al-Faraj’s return from a long injury saw him start both friendlies in the Spain training camp. Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari could emerge as the more conservative midfield enforcer against stronger sides.
The center of the pitch is where the most intense battle of positions will take place. As many as three midfielders could be left behind come June 4. Ibrahim Ghaleb has already been left out and he may be joined by Al-Shabab duo Hattan Bahebri and Abdulla Al-Khaibari. One of Mohammad Kanno and Mohammed Al Kuwaikbi could be the last man to be dropped in two weeks’ time.
Up front, Harun Kamara, a surprise call-up for the recent friendlies, failed to retain his spot in the squad so Mohannad Assiri and Mohammed Al-Sahlawi will battle it out for the sole striker position.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al-Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Assaf Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)
Defenders: Motaz Hawsawi, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli); Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal); Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr).
Midfielders: Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdulla Otayf, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohammed Kanno, Nawaf Al-Abid (Al-Hilal); Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ettifaq); Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal); Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante); Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes)
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli)